Now that the site is looking way better, it’s time to get back to writing about food (in theory the point of this blog — apparently mucking about with WordPress isn’t the main reason we’re here). I’m super lucky that we got to go to Israel for a month this summer and really live there. We were based out of Jerusalem and spent our time doing more living than touristing really. And of course, a major component of living is eating. Before you evaluate the food in the region it’s important to understand some context for how this young country’s history has shaped its culinary value system.
The modern state of Israel has only been around since 1948. The majority of its population is Jewish with significant percentages having come from Eastern Europe or North African and the Arab countries. There’s also a large Arab minority that’s both Muslim and Christian. The Eastern European Jews brought their culture and values, but if you look at Israeli culture today, especially when it comes to basic cultural elements like music and food, it feels like the region and Israel’s neighbors have influenced Israel’s population quite a bit. In fact, despite all the problems in the region, most people from outside the area can’t tell Jews and Arabs apart. And frankly, the food they like to eat doesn’t help much either in terms of distinguishing them from each other. Luckily, the food in the region is delicious. (Mental note: explore the possibility of middle east peace through some finding common culinary ground.)
In addition to the cultural mix, there are other key elements that dictate the menu. The regional ingredients are key of course. Olives and more importantly olive oil permeate almost every dish. The produce in the area is absolutely incredible and is foundational for food in Israel. The arab cheeses are key, as are the constant Israeli micro-experimenting with dairy products. Together they make an interesting dairy landscape. And finally, the geography itself makes itself felt.
Israel is hot. This past August hotter than hot (thank you global warming?). For centuries agriculture has been central to a large portion of the region’s society. And frankly, working the land in the region can be difficult. The middle of the day can be oppressively hot. Much like other areas of the planet with similar climates, lunch tends to be a big meal followed by a nap. Better to eat and sleep through the hottest part of the day than be out in a field braving the sun. And clearly a nap is required after a big meal. Of course this means that breakfast and dinner need to be lighter meals. Often breakfast and dinner can be indistinguishable from each other. However, the light meal is multi-faceted so it’s never boring. More on that in a later post.
Unfortunately much of Israeli society is moving closer to American eating habits. Proliferation of McDonalds’ and American breakfast cereals are the leading indicators for me of the local culinary habits getting diluted, but there’s still plenty pockets of goodness to find. We’ll spend my next several posts exploring some of the food in the area as well some of the great places we got to eat while we were there. Thanks for staying tuned.